U.S. leaders must level with America on China and Taiwan

ben weingarten
Conservative Opinion

Ben Weingarten

Federalist Senior Contributor; Claremont Institute Fellow
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The United States continues to lose prestige and respect on a global scale thanks to the Biden Administration’s refusal to stand up to our adversaries. The tension between China and Taiwan is a high-stakes conflict that could shift the balance of power in a crucial international region. It offers a clear example of the weakness shown by the president to stand up to the Chinese Communist Party, which is without question the greatest current threat to America.

China’s continued military actions make an invasion of Taiwan inevitabilite, yet the White House has done nothing about it save for empty promises and backing Taiwan to rejoin the United Nations. Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping talked in November about Taiwan and other issues. But here we are, weeks later, with no concrete actions taken. Xi, whose own time as leader of the CCP may be winding down, clearly has little regard for Biden. And he views Taiwan as a prize that would push China closer to total dominance in the Indo-Pacific region, something that would shake up the international hierarchy.

It’s long past time Biden let the American people know why it’s essential to U.S. interests that we protect Taiwan from China.

We just spent two decades committing unbelievable amounts of blood and treasure with almost nothing to show for it in the Middle East.

We deserve nothing less than crystal clarity on what the Biden administration’s intentions are in Taiwan—especially given how muddled the Biden administration’s message has been on it. Joe Biden says one thing. His handlers walk it back

The reason we need clarity, and confidence right now is that, as I mentioned, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is becoming more and more imminent, and it would be hugely consequential for us.

It’s inexcusable that we are letting China dictate things when we have the advantage in so many ways. Our military is superior in terms of numbers and capability, and China’s dependency on foreign energy also is a weakness we can exploit. And let’s not forget that the economic influence China holds can be choked by the U.S.

China’s aggression must be met with strong, decisive actions. But it remains to be seen if Biden has the backbone for it.

With each passing day of the Biden administration, it’s clear our worst adversaries neither fear nor respect us. You can measure that by their aggressiveness. And among the most aggressive moves threatened by our worst adversaries is this: China’s invasion of Taiwan.

Given how imminent this incursion is becoming, its outsize geopolitical significance, and the fact any conflict involving Taiwan could escalate into a shooting war, up to and including a nuclear war, we deserve a genuine national conversation about Taiwan.

The following question absolutely, positively must be addressed by our leaders: Should America defend Taiwan, to what extent, and why?

The Biden administration has threatened “terrible consequences” should China strike.

But those threats not only seem toothless based on the Biden administration’s record, but are reckless when the case has never been made to the American people that they are deserved. And I say that as someone who believes the Chinese Communist Party is the preeminent threat to the American way of life and ought to be countered with a whole of society strategy commensurate with the strategy that China is executing against us.

We just spent two decades committing unbelievable amounts of blood and treasure with almost nothing to show for it in the Middle East.

We deserve nothing less than crystal clarity on what the Biden administration’s intentions are in Taiwan—especially given how muddled the Biden administration’s message has been on it. Joe Biden says one thing. His handlers walk it back

The reason we need, clarity, and confidence, right now is that, as I mentioned, a Chinese invasion of Taiwan is becoming more and more imminent, and it would be hugely consequential for us.

Leading U.S. military officials see China waiting until 2027 or beyond to make a move on Taiwan before 2027, our national security, foreign policy and intelligence communities have repeatedly found themselves stunned by China’s military developments over the last two decades—and not just on small things, but the most important ones, like China’s mushrooming nuclear weapons stockpile, and its rapid alleged development of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles that could completely evade our defenses, and devastate us.

Chinese Communist Party mouthpieces, for what its worth, have threatened Taiwan with “decisive measures” within one to two years. 

And of course, China continues menacingly breaching Taiwan’s airspace, and openly engaging in military exercises that look like simulated assaults on Taiwan.

It makes sense why China might speed up its timeline for an assault. 

Xi Jinping isn’t getting any younger. 

His hold on power is not guaranteed — his tyrannical crackdowns on Chinese oligarchs and peasants alike demonstrate insecurity. 

China faces an energy crisis, a real estate bubble, and major demographic and cultural issues that could unglue Chinese society. Issues, by the way, created by the Chinese communist party.

So a foreign war to distract, and rally, might make domestic sense.

Taiwan also is, and has always been, the apple of the Communist Party’s eye. 

Swallowing it would be Xi’s crowning achievement, cementing his place alongside Mao in the CCP’s Dictator Hall of Fame.

This takeover would put China one step closer to regional dominance.

It would threaten nations like Japan, the Philippines—nations we are treaty-bound to defend, and others; it would give China greater control over the trillions of dollars in global commerce that traverse the seas surrounding Taiwan; seas that are key from a military perspective as well. It would enhance China’s technological capabilities, assuming Taiwan’s preeminent semiconductor manufacturing facilities aren’t destroyed in any military incursion; and undermine American power in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. 

If the perception is that the U.S. failed to fulfill its legal obligations to Taiwan, or that we otherwise prove a paper tiger, we’d suffer further losses in power, prestige and credibility.

Meanwhile, it’s not just that China has motive to attack; it also has means. The Communist Party’s military — the so-called People’s Liberation Army — has been rapidly modernizing and strengthening in its quest to rival the U.S. military, and push us out of its sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific. 

It has a larger navy than America’s in terms of total ships and submarines (though not in terms of tonnage); a sophisticated air-defense system; superior land-based conventional and cruise missiles by both number and range; and according to the Department of Defense, quote-unquote, “asymmetric ways and means to counter U.S. conventional capabilities.” 

Translation: they intend to be able to counter us even if from a traditional POV in terms of bombs and airplanes and the like, we appear stronger.

Maybe scariest of all is China’s fast-growing nuclear weapons stockpile continues to mushroom., Though it’s the cruise missiles that would likely be aimed at our assets first in a Taiwan attack, where again they appear to have superiority.

In wargames, Chinese forces have defeated American ones in a simulated assault on Taiwan. China’s military build-up seems squarely aimed at achieving this objective in the near term.

While China has acted increasingly aggressively both in Taiwan’s airspace and across the world since the onset of the Chinese coronavirus pandemic, global opinion has started to slowly, glacially, but surely turn against it. 

Still, there’s no NATO for China; no major substantive policy changes; no comprehensive, unified global campaign to counter and isolate Communist China. But the change in opinion increases the urgency for China to act now before the globe gets its act together.

Finally, China might see in America the key stumbling block to its hegemonic ambitions—not merely an “emperor wears no clothes” situation in terms of the Biden administration, but one in which the emperor might literally be found stumbling around pants-less. 

We are “led” by a commander-in-chief of questionable fitness, who is arguably compromised on Communist China, and the administration is weak and woke. This might be Xi’s single best and only chance to make his move.

With all that said, there are three primary reasons why our leaders should be using the bully pulpit to elevate the Taiwan issue—explaining what is at stake if China invades, what the consequences would be ,and what our commitment to Taiwan’s defense might entail, before we’re plunged headlong into an unpredictable war that we the people might well disapprove of, that could spiral out of control.

First, for a foreign policy to have legitimacy, there must be buy-in from the people. What former United Nations Ambassador Jeanne Kirkpatrick wrote in her vital 1990 essay, “A Normal Country in a Normal Time,” is as fitting today as it was 31 years ago. She wrote:

It has become more important than ever that the experts who conduct foreign policy on our behalf be subject to the direction and control of the people. We should reject utterly any claim that foreign policy is the special province of special people—beyond the control of those: who must pay its costs and bear its consequences.

If defending Taiwan is in our national interest, the Biden administration must make the case to the American people as to why—we’re war-weary; it may well be unclear to Topeka what happens a world away in Taipei why it would have any relations to their daily lives; and again, any conflict could escalate, up to and including an exchange of nuclear weapons. 

Right now, it sometimes seems we are being sleepwalked into such a potential war without any discussion whatsoever. And I say this as an ardent supporter of taiwan’s freedom and opponent of the CCP.

Whether a Chinese incursion spirals into something cataclysmic or is limited to attacks on U.S. military assets and those of our allies and partners in the region, our blood and treasure will be at stake. We should expect that China might launch all sorts of attacks aimed at destabilizing the American system and raising the cost to American action, exploiting our dependence on China for all manner of goods and the CCP’s penetration of virtually every vital aspect of American society. 

Now, we can impose costs too—something that our leaders also haven’t made clear, and should make clear. We are still the richest and strongest nation in the world.

We have a vastly superior military in terms of size, strength, and capability. 

We have force-multiplying allies and partners in the region. 

China is dependent on foreign energy, and a number of other critical resources. We were energy independent before the Biden administration’s hamstringing of the energy sector.. 

More broadly, China is dependent and reliant on U.S. capital markets and a global trade architecture still dominated by the U.S. If economic power is the key to Chinese power, we hold the key to China’s economic power.

Every single connection with the West that China has exploited in its rise to power and continues to exploit today, we can use to break it if it dares threaten our interests. We should make very clear that the cost to China would be infinitely greater than whatever is to be gained by an attempted invasion of Taiwan.

Our leaders should be telegraphing this to deter China. 

And let me be clear, in my view, America ought to seek to thwart China’s regional hegemonic ambitions, and its global hegemonic ambitions, of course, by arming allies like Taiwan to the hilt, sharing intelligence and fostering alliances and partnerships to build a further bulwark against China—achieving peace through shared strength, not direct confrontation.

The second reason we need a national conversation about Taiwan is because elevating this issue to the national level would simultaneously harm China while helping the U.S. 

Shining a light on Taiwan as a beacon of liberty and dynamism that demonstrates what China could be were it free of the CCP’s shackles would stand as a rebuke to Xi’s regime—a psychologically significant blow to that evil regime. Galvanizing public support for Taiwan among millions of Americans might have a deterrent effect all on its own. An America awake and hostile to China’s Taiwan designs would obviously pose a greater threat to China than an America asleep. It might help prevent, or at least forestall, a Chinese annexation effort that could allow Taiwan and our allies and partners to beef up their own defenses and increase coordination—which itself might serve as an additional deterrent and also reduce the scale of any potential direct American commitment.

Finally: A national conversation, if done right, would both provide needed clarity to Americans while messaging “strategic ambiguity”—America’s decades-long Taiwan policy—to China. If our leaders laid out a whole range of measures America might take to repel a Chinese invasion—walk through the pros and cons of these options—and game out how China might respond and how we might counter, this could create doubt and confusion on China’s side while at the same time preparing Americans for a whole range of contingencies. 

For a nation to have legitimacy, its leaders must level with the people on matters of war and peace. If our troops may die; our homeland may be threatened; our business interrupted; and our underlying freedoms imperiled, we better know why and what we plan to do to ensure life and liberty is preserved—and the American national interest is best served.